If you’re planning your own exchange for some point during your degree, you might want to bookmark this post for future reference. This week I’m going to be taking you through a step-by-step guide to coping with being thousands of miles from home. In light of the fact that it’s World Mental Health Day on Thursday 10th October, it is so important to remember that wherever you are in the world, you’ve got to look after yourself.
I’ll be honest – it’s been a tough week for me. I’ve been twisting and turning through a string of good and bad news from back home, and also here in my new London life, too. Home feels particularly far away for me, and it’s not surprising to know that this is a feeling that will strike most exchange students at one point during their time studying abroad.
When you get good news from home: On Sunday night AEST I became an aunt and godmother to my oldest sister’s firstborn beautiful baby girl. As you can imagine, meeting a 24-hour-year-old precious bundle of joy is not the same when it’s over Skype. I’ve found that it makes it much easier to celebrate in the arrival of good news from afar by surrounding yourself with reminders of the happy event. For me, this has meant little changes like customising my laptop’s desktop image to a picture of my new niece, and keeping a collection of photos of my family on my phone so I always have something close by that keeps me smiling. This will be different for everyone, so try to work out what will help you if you find yourself wishing you were back home with your friends and family during a period of good news. Remember that they’re always only a phone call away.
When you get bad news from home: Unfortunately, a few days prior to this good news, I also found out that my mum and other sister had been in a car accident. Luckily no one was hurt, but it’s still hard hearing details of how firemen had to cut open the car to rescue them. All I wanted to do was give them a big hug, but unfortunately my arms couldn’t reach all the way across the globe. It was much easier for me to cope with the bad news by keeping in regular contact with everyone back home. I’ve loved recounting stories to them about my adventures in London, and thinking about all the new experiences that I’m grateful for. It’s also really important to have something to look forward to, so call up your new exchange buddies and book in a date to go out and have fun. You could even ask your parents to send you a copy of your favourite home-cooked recipe and invite your exchange friends over for a dinner party so you can make it for them. Reintroduce something small from your routine back home, and it could make you feel a lot better.
When it’s good news for you: When things are going well for you – smile! Remind yourself of all the hard work you’ve put into making this exchange happen for you and know that you deserve every second of your new great memories. Make a point of remembering the details of your antics so you can play back vivid reminders for years to come. Keep your eyes open and learn new things about your surroundings each and every day. Share your happiness with your closest friends back home – send them emails, snapchats and whatsapps whenever you’re thinking of them and wishing you were sharing a moment with them. Just remember the time differences and don’t get carried away calling them when it’s 3am back home. They probably won’t thank you for that.
When it’s bad news for you: It’s not all smooth sailing though. Over here in London, the exchange gods have hit me with another obstacle owing to the fact that City University aren’t running some of the courses that were originally planned. This has resulted in last minute, high-stress desperate emails back to RMIT to have more courses approved so I can be re-enrolled back into full time study. When I get stressed like this, I get incredibly unproductive and before I know it I’ve watched two whole seasons of Entourage and forgotten about feeding myself. So it goes without saying, make sure you get enough food and sleep, organise your time and keep yourself on an honest deadline. If you’ve got something to do, get it done, but be kind to yourself and allow the time you need to get it done right. If worst comes to worst, give yourself a day to be sad, write it off, and then move on. Talk about it though, and remember that even asking a new friend for a hug could make you feel infinitely better. Don’t underestimate the power of a good cuddle.
The skills for coping with change are becoming a necessity in our increasingly globalised world. We all need certain anchor points in life, and we need to be empathetic with ourselves when finding and adjusting these. Remember, the most important thing to do in a time of change is to talk to someone about what you’re going through. So without knowing it, by reading this postcard you’ve all been a great help to me this week, and I want to thank you for that – wherever in the world you are.
Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!